Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama, 2012. Photo by Carrie Chappell.

A poem by American poet Carrie Chappell. This poem was first published in January 2022 in #Firebrand, an anthology of White Stag Publishing.

This Is God in Her Guts


i. 

For red to leave her, she takes in 
What she laid bare quickly as if
It never left the temple where for years 
The locals told her
God lived 
Within 
Her. 

And he did have a place there, 
In her, as he did in all 
Women in gospels 
According to 
Men. 

So
To be holy
She had listened to them, dispersed herself 
Inwardly, unleashed 
A herd of shadows 
To moor against 
The shores of her, 
While her boating hips 
Floated around a center, 
Two clouds 
That sharpened in their
Moon’s dark
Cape.


ii. 

When she got older,
She found freedom
In a car, one that let her drive 
Over and 
Past the 
Past, 

Yards of alabaster
That hereby’ed 
A history she couldn’t have 
And would grow 
To know she didn’t 
Want a place in. 
Where there were oft  
Parades of 
Southern crosses, 
Where she heard songs 
That meant little
And everything to her. 

This land’s history was a charge
To battlefields, was winged 
Difference confounded in
The cardinals
Chirrup.

How dutiful
And dreary
Was their 
Witness. 

In them, she heard
Time’s speckled-egg 
Saga and felt their nests 
Heaving a colonizer’s 
Crowd-friendly 
Chronicle.


iii.

How was it then
Necessary to try
Collusion:

She dug up 
The worms 
From grass patches 
History-men told her
Were important.
She scoured—.
Then, score-boarded, with
The best of them. 
Rallied in the findings, 
Pulled up a pom-pom,
Practiced a parachute
Voice that pitched air 
Over any small tragedy, 
Put the hoopskirt
Round her waist, 
And watched it fall 
To the bedroom floorboards 
After a day 
Of truly nothing 
Done. 

As she watched 
The heather
Dustbunnies huddle 
At her toes, she heard 
The Ma’ams hasten
Their always questions—
Why not this glove
Shaped like a wedding 
Bell, why not let yourself 
Sink into a petit-four?
What have you against 
Our pleasure? 


iv.

Swish and smile and 
Three hundred
Tailgates later 
And—.
(Well, 
That’s another
History, 
Too.) 

And so 
For some time 
She sat on these moss-
Boned foothills, 
Social bills, where
Beaks broke tree flesh, 
And she, too, 
Something,
In fig-sick 
Worry of her 
Memories.


v.
 
And yet she was dying 
To live, 
Dying to be 
Their girl,
Their woman. 
A sigh in the picture.
She was among their gardens, 
Picking their weeds, 
Her scabs to get pretty, 
While, like monkey grass 
Sprouting purpling stalks 
On some inner highway 
Toward home,
Whispered anon
A non-scarlet wind of 
Tomorrow, stuttered a 
M-m-must g-g-get gone,
With no salute to their
Darling After 
Alls.

 
vi.

Yes, she was dying to quit 
Their cadet, 
Even though
They were handing out coats
Of paint to everyone
Who came with a
Need for fuss, 
Fancy, her a furlough. 
Even though the hoopla 
To get bustled
Was of a tempting thread-count. 
True was what she wanted to
Be yet however much she dared 
The dogwoods to release her, 
She stayed, more, she
Did. So, she tickled her hair 
Till it tendrilled, 
Turned her laugh 
Into a doodle, 
Desire into a 
Cock.

 
vii.
 
And when she had more questions, 
As she would, 
She would ask The Ma’ams,
The Sirs, what 
Happened, and they would 
Thrust her 
Into pools of reason, 
Dunk her head 
In the deep-end 
Of doctrine, 
Into lessons inherited, 
Into lessons petrified
By history’s school-
Board accredited pages. 

They would backstroke 
In the slow lane of
Slow change, 
Bargain heresy 
With how many
Times they weren’t allowed 
To go downtown,
Pretend this land’s politics 
Weren’t a parade
Of how dare you 
Touch a picket
Fist. And so water’s wash silenced 
The muted kitchen dish 
As it was filed into
Machine, 
As night’s
Red fog cough
Of celery-strung
I love you’s 
Left her diary-
Blank.


viii. 

Years later: tall
Drink of water—
Poured out of the shock of
Stocking legs grown 
Long beside 
The Easter basket, 
There where she
Licked her fingers 
To edit what mascara 
Mowed down of innocence.
With this tongue, she’d learned
She could make sticky 
The donation envelope, 
Could lay it flat inside
Her and hold a burgeoning 
Adolescence with a 
Short-penciled piety, there 
In a pew, 
Practically 
On cue. 

Such ceremony had pleated her 
Skirts. Such moments did prayer
Prey on her like origin, 
Her mother’s answer and her birth, 
Another body to be converted, 
Aborting 
Pleasure.


viv.

But how other bells 
Would peal for her.
How a bikini would 
Perform her body. 
How contentment 
Became her body in
Community, was suddenly 
Talking to women 
About dirty women, 
How anecdotes 
Ungodly about incidents 
With men ungodly 
Shone holy
In the silver temple 
Of the preacher’s 
Coffee pot or around 
The Christian cough
Of a mouth dry 
On cheese straws.

How the women had a room
Of their own, not in the kitchen
But a social hall, where cabinets
Harmonized with cookie tins, 
Where The Ma’ams could laugh under 
Artificial holly leaf, near their
Rubbermaids half-full 
Of the pure white 
Discharge of Elmer’s. 
This is where the women could write
Their thank-you’s, plot and scheme, 
Where she could dream
Prudently.


x.

Yes, for red to let her go, 
She must hold onto the timid 
Sprig of her doubt that demands, 
Is there a humid door of this world that
Does not breathe a lie?

This she asks herself in The Sirs’ sighing
Sports complex, where youth leaders 
Turn into coaches, their wives a hoot 
And a monogram on the sidelines. 
This she asks herself sitting on the salty shell 
Of rite, as she waits for the local 
Entertainment. For all the nature around,
Often she was like this called to witness 
In acres of suburb’s acolyte
Asphalt. 


xi.

Yes, for red to leave her,
She must solicit it, must 
Bite its lip. She must locate their 
Words and finger them out:
This, she says, this,
Touching her guilty
Cunt, is god in my 
Guts. 

xii.


        In the zealot
        Rays of the Southern sun,
        What is not crying 
        Like a beast broken,
        Half-aroused at its 
        Own pain? What body 
        Born here stays and
        Doesn’t beg like a
        Naughty weed
        To be punished?
        O, what cult,
        What kink. 


xiii.


Yes, for red to leave her, 
She must turn on
The temple 
Where for years 
The locals told
Her sin lived 
Within her.
Yes, she lets go, 
Of god-ness, 
Says to the 
WhoDunnits:

        These stains do 
        Stay, my goodness—
        They will not grant me 
        Absolution, they will not let me 
        Be, for if it’s not their love, 
        And if their love is not 
        Submission, if their love 
        Is not submission 
        To some man…


xiv.


        O Artemis, o bowing pines, o voices 
        Arched and sliced through, o splinter, o 
        Sap of Red religion, if it’s not 
        Submission to some man
        Could then I…

Could then she curl up
To cuss, crudely, in the great sweat
Of a hand un-slicked of psalm?
Could she then sit down and touch
Herself, know the great power of
The whole of her body, the hole
Of her body, and look crudely at the
Great snake so scared,
So scared of her, that
He broke her
Into pieces
And then painted them 
In his image?

She could.